Exposing the Dangers of Benzodiazepines and Bringing Awareness for Freedom
More than 30 percent of overdoses involving opioids also involve benzodiazepines, a type of prescription sedative commonly prescribed for anxiety or to help with insomnia. Benzodiazepines (sometimes called “benzos”) work to calm or sedate a person, by raising the level of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. Common benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam (Klonopin), among others.
Every day, more than 115 Americans die after overdosing on opioids. However, between 1996 and 2013, the number of adults who filled a benzodiazepine prescription increased by 67%, from 8.1 million to 13.5 million. The quantity obtained also increased from 1.1 kg to 3.6 kg lorazepam-equivalents per 100,000 adults. Combining opioids and benzodiazepines can be unsafe because both types of drug sedate users and suppress breathing—the cause of overdose fatality—in addition to impairing cognitive functions. In 2015, 23 percent of people who died of an opioid overdose also tested positive for benzodiazepines. Unfortunately, many people are prescribed both drugs simultaneously. In a study of over 300,000 continuously insured patients receiving opioid prescriptions between 2001 and 2013, the percentage of persons also prescribed benzodiazepines rose to 17 percent in 2013 from nine percent in 2001. The study showed that people concurrently using both drugs are at higher risk of visiting the emergency department or being admitted to a hospital for a drug-related emergency.
The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) placed benzodiazepines on a list of medications that should be avoided in patients over 65 years of age. Several major psychiatric associations also advise against using benzodiazepines for generalized anxiety disorder and insomnia in the elderly. Despite these recommendations, benzodiazepines continue to be prescribed to a group with the highest risk of serious adverse effects from these medications. In the United States, more than 10% of women and 6% of men aged 65 to 80 years filled at least one prescription for benzodiazepines in a 1-year period, approximately one-third of them receiving benzodiazepines for longer than 120 days in a year. This widespread prescription of benzodiazepines in a population for which they are generally contraindicated has the potential for important public health consequences because benzodiazepine use is associated with risk of dependence, cognitive deficits, falls resulting in fractures, motor vehicle accidents, and overall mortality.